In 1976 the Davisons abandoned their Cambridge manse for a Boston waterfront-renewal duplex, and the collapse of her ""monogamous relationship"" with her house prompted Jane Davison to retrace that relationship through three generations of her family, doing some research and some corollary reading en route. The result is part memoir, part social history, and much verbalizing--the sort of book that, with a little journalistic rigor, could have been reduced to a yeasty magazine piece. We see Grandma presiding over a spacious neo-Georgian pile (""Above all, she valued the security she thought of as coziness"") and writing in her journal, ""How I longed to KICK off the lid."" Mother's domain, in the 1930s and '40s, is a compact, ""generalized Colonial"" house, tastefully arranged and accoutered: ""the implementing of couples' mutual self-esteem. . . had become more than a practical duty akin to housekeeping, but almost a cultural obligation."" For '60s young-marrieds, the mandate is do-it-yourself: ""We ambitious types seemed to have little choice but to forget the rolling lawns and gardens we didn't have, and to perfect the interiors we did."" The first Design Research emporium is around the corner, since this is Cambridge, and ""Updikean dinner parties"" are given, ""of an almost Edwardian gourmandise."" These are the book's liveliest pages, testimony to the birth of that sedulous, expensive simplicity that came to reign in exposed-brick shopping malls from the Philadelphia waterfront to Ghirardelli Square. The Davisons' present, ""eccentric"" Mercantile Wharf quarters--where the bed becomes the sofa by day--trigger some timely, provocative reflections on the ""gradual evolution toward a less rugged individualism in housing."" And--given women's aspirations and economic constraints--on the advantages of multiple-dwellings generally over the one-woman, one-family home. For the patient reader, then, some recognitions and something of a new outlook.